he Cherokee National Forest encompasses 627,000 acres of eastern Tennessee’s highlands. Within its boundaries are several designated wilderness areas, 9 major rivers, 500 miles of hiking trails, 100 miles of riding trails, 80 miles of mountain-biking trails, and many scenic drives.
Scenic drives through the forest include the Unaka Mountain Auto Tour, a 30-mile loop road through dense stands of rhododendrons and hemlocks along Rock Creek; the Tellico Auto Loop, which climbs to over 5,000 feet and skirts the edge of a Black Bear sanctuary; and the 26-mile Ocoee Scenic Byway, with its many views of the Ocoee River.
Nearly 200 trails of varying lengths and difficulties are scattered across the forest. For wilderness hiking and camping, the Citico Creek, Gee Creek, Bald River Gorge, and Unaka Mountain Wildernesses and Tennessee’s portion of the 2,000-mile Appalachian Trail are the best destinations. The Citico is by far the largest wilderness area, with an extensive network of more than 20 miles of trails. Hikers should be cautious while trekking through the Citico: more Black Bears are born each year in this wilderness than in any other region in the state.
The two best white-water rivers in the forest are the Hiwassee and the Ocoee. Novice paddlers come to test their skills on the Hiwassee, which is wide and shallow in many places and somewhat tame by white-water standards. The John Muir Trail follows along the corridor of the Hiwassee for 17 miles. The Ocoee River requires considerable skill and should be attempted only by experienced kayakers, rafters, and canoeists, although tour companies offer guided rafting trips for participants of any skill level. Local vendors rent large rubber rafts. Other scenic rivers in the forest include the Conasauga State Scenic River, which supports more than 60 fish species, and Bald River, famous for its 120-foot waterfall.
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